The personal responsibility of mask wearing

Wearing a face mask is now a matter of personal choice.

Wearing a face mask is now a matter of personal choice. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In Boris Johnson's words, on July 19, face masks became a "personal choice". It was a move away from a national rules based approach.

The Prime Minister encouraged people to exercise their "personal responsibility" and use their own judgement about what was a safe course of action in different circumstances.

I live in Potters Bar, part of the commuter belt to London. The Great Northern service trains which run between Moorgate and Stevenage are not officially part of Transport for London, on which the wearing of face covering is still mandatory.

Although the majority on these services are still wearing masks, there is a smaller group who are not.

Now that it is no longer mandatory not wearing, or wearing, a mask has become an act of political significance. It feels like there is an undercurrent of a battle of ideologies between those who believe collective action is needed for the public good and those who uphold personal freedoms

In moving towards "personal responsibility" our choices are a visible demonstration of our personal values.

Or perhaps differences in opinion stem from the opposing mindsets that cautious and optimistic people hold.

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The lack of mask wearing could be a symptom of misplaced confidence, a desire to believe that the risk has substantially decreased. Some believe the protection that the vaccine offers is high enough that other measures are no longer necessary

Differing information that individuals have gathered are factored into their personal calculations on how to behave.

The more life resembles the pre-pandemic world the more we feel back to normal. Removing our masks is a small personal act that allows us to feel hopeful that this reality is here to stay.

However, the more cautious (and maybe pessimistic) of us stick resolutely to our masks. This is because the upward movement of case rates causes a jolt of anxiety and the idea of another winter lockdown feels like a very real possibility.

I recently visited Potters Bar Tesco without a mask. It wasn’t my intention, but at the tail end of a lengthy walk I realised I had forgotten my mask. I entered and did my shopping as efficiently as possible, keeping my distance. But I felt uncomfortable, like I’d crossed the divide and slipped into the wrong category.